How did people view interracial couples in the 1960's?
Just 50 years ago, a Black man in the South risked his life if suspected by Whites of looking the wrong way at a White woman. A White woman faced rejection by her family and disgrace in the eyes of White society for having a child by a Black father. In 1967, when the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws, Black/White marriage was still illegal in 17 states (Kennedy, 2000:144). Black/White Marriage The broader social acceptance of interracial romance saw its beginnings in the early to mid- 1960s, before the 1967 Supreme Court decision in Loving vs. Virginia, and coincident with the major advances of the civil rights movement. Before the 1960s, Black/White marriage occurred only rarely and prompted White backlash of varying intensities when it did occur. The Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal, writing in 1944, observed with keen insight that "the ban in intermarriage has the highest place in the White man's rank order of social segregation and discrimination" (Myrdal, 1944:606). The civil rights movement destabilized that social taboo, setting into motion a cultural shift that continues to the present. To be sure, White antipathy toward interracial marriage has not disappeared and virulent examples still occur (Childs, 2005:178-180; Ferber, 1995:165-166; Ferber, 1998). However, it is difficult to imagine that the inherited prejudices against Black/White marriage will ever again claim the loyalty of the majority of Americans. Although the civil rights struggle emerged in the 1950s, the effects it had on racial intermarriage lagged until the 1960s, when the re-alignments in race relations of the era began to bring together Black and White Americans in new residential, educational and work-related contexts in significant numbers. Census figures show a distinct rise in Black/White marriage in the 1960s as compared with previous decades of the 20th century, with the gain in momentum most evident in the North. The old systems, both legal and de facto, that prohibited, monitored, and punished interracial marriage began to weaken, and rates of such unions gained steadily throughout the decade. Anti-miscegenation statutes and deeper racial fears and hatred, combined with a much larger Black population, accounted for a somewhat slower rise in intermarriage rates in the South. Aaron Gullickson has analyzed census data for Black/White intermarriage trends in the U.S. from 1850 to 2000. In a summary of twentieth century trends, he writes that: Studies from the first half of the twentieth century have suggested a decline over this time period in the frequency of interracial marriage, although the evidence is either largely impressionistic or based on small, geographically specific samples. Since 1960, the frequency of interracial marriage has increased at a constant exponential rate (Gullickson, 2006:292). Absolute numbers tell the same story. The U.S. Census reported 51,000 Black/White marital couples in the U.S in 1960. The numbers rose to 65,000 in 1970, 121,000 in 1980, and 213,000 in 1991 (Kennedy, 2003:126). By 2002, there were 395,000 Black/White marriages (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2004). This increase, continuous now for over 40 years, would seem to confirm the loosening of the centuries-old taboo erected by White society against Black/White marriage.